Braille Monitor                                                                    August/September 2006


Revolution and Evolution
A Report on the 2006 Convention Resolutions

by Sharon Maneki

Sharon Maneki reads a resolution for consideration.

From the Editor: Sharon Maneki chairs the Resolutions Committee. In the following article she briefly describes each resolution brought for consideration by the 2006 Convention. This is what she says:

The 2006 convention agenda had an intriguing title: "The Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader: The Revolution is Here!" I was struck by the appropriateness of this title as a description of our new portable reading machine. During the Resolutions Committee meeting on July 2, James Gashel, the director of strategic initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind, had the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader read his proposed resolution to the committee. The machine read the material without missing a word and with no pronunciation errors.

The term "revolutionary" applies not only to the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader, but also to the National Federation of the Blind. One definition of "revolution" is: a drastic and far-reaching change in ways of thinking and behaving. This definition certainly describes the philosophy of our movement. Our positive outlook on blindness was definitely revolutionary in 1940 when Dr. Jacobus tenBroek founded the Federation.

Each year the Convention considers resolutions to determine the policies and future goals of the organization. When attempting to categorize the resolutions passed at the 2006 convention, I found that some of them are definitely revolutionary, while others were better classified as evolutionary. Some resolutions are policy statements that have evolved over the years, while others represent new ways of thinking about blindness.

In my opinion the Convention passed two resolutions that may be considered revolutionary and ten that demonstrate an evolution in our thinking. Another theme in the 2006 resolutions was access, including access to programs, to independent travel, and to information. A summary of the 2006 convention resolutions follows.

Resolution 2006-01 will revolutionize opportunities for blind people through a Braille literacy campaign that we will conduct in accordance with the Louis Braille commemorative coin legislation. In this resolution we commend Congressmen Ney and Cardin and Senators Santorum and Dodd for working with us to promote this important legislation, which passed the House of Representatives on February 28, 2006, and passed the Senate on June 29, 2006. Through the Louis Braille coin campaign, the Federation resolves to welcome "all blind and sighted citizens to a country in which differences in the way citizens perform tasks like reading are seen as irrelevant to competence and success…." Jesse Hartle, a program specialist in the governmental affairs department of the National Federation of the Blind, who worked tirelessly on this legislation, was the proponent of resolution 2006-01.

Carrie Gilmer, secretary of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, introduced a revolutionary resolution, 2006-07. Teachers of blind students, their training programs, and the institutions that provide services to blind children and adults, often refer to themselves as "vision teachers," "vision classes," and "vision programs." In this resolution we condemn and deplore this practice and demand that professionals replace the term "vision" with the term "blind" when describing a program or activity. Replacing "vision" with the term "blind" will bring about a revolutionary change in thinking because it will indicate to blind students "that no shame attaches to their being blind, that eyesight is not the sole link to success, that the value and potential of human beings are completely unrelated to the possession of sight …."

Resolutions 2006-04 and 2006-06 are good examples of policies that have evolved over the years. Both of these resolutions were sponsored by Peggy Elliott, second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and president of the Iowa affiliate.
Resolution 2006-04 affirms our long commitment to eliminate the minimum wage exemption for blind workers in the Fair Labor Standards Act. In this resolution we urge National Industries for the Blind and the United States Congress to work closely with us to ensure that all blind workers are paid at least the minimum wage.

Resolution 2006-06 advocates various reforms in the Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) Program. This program was established during the Depression to create jobs for blind people by allowing nonprofit agencies employing the blind to have a priority in the sale of products to the federal government. Recently the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) in the United States Senate uncovered numerous abuses in the JWOD Program. For instance, two billion dollars in sales to the federal government yielded an annual average wage to blind and disabled employees of merely eight thousand dollars. The Federation has a long history of seeking reform in this program. The interest of the HELP Committee provides the Federation with a new opportunity to urge reform. Resolution 2006-06 outlines the various reforms that we will seek in Congress.

Several years ago the Convention passed a resolution concerning the danger of quiet cars to all pedestrians but especially blind pedestrians. Noel Nightingale, a leader in the NFB of Washington introduced resolution 2006-05. This resolution represents an evolution of our position on the quiet-car problem. In this resolution we call on Congress, the executive branch, and car manufacturers to mandate that vehicles emit sound. The resolution also describes various necessary characteristics of the sound to ensure safe travel for pedestrians.

The following resolutions demonstrate both evolution and access to programs. Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, sponsored resolution 2006-02. In 1982 Congress made blind vendors in the Randolph-Sheppard Program the exclusive purveyors of food and beverages on the interstate highway system. Recently the United States Department of Transportation published a notice of proposed rule making for a new pilot program called the Interstate Oasis Program. This proposal had no provisions for the participation of blind vendors. The Interstate Oasis Program will be in direct competition with blind vendors because it allows others to offer food, beverages, and other services near the interstate highway system. In resolution 2006-02 we call upon the United States Department of Transportation to facilitate the participation of blind vendors in the Interstate Oasis Program.
The Convention passed two resolutions regarding the Library of Congress's Books for the Blind Program, one of the oldest federal programs serving blind Americans. The National Federation of the Blind has been a strong advocate for this program for many years. Two resolutions were necessary because of recent attacks on the program.

Jim Gashel proposed resolution 2006-12. In this resolution we express our continued support for the plan to convert Talking Books produced by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped from analog technology to digital technology. We also urge Congress to provide the necessary funding for this modernization of the Talking Book Program.

Brandon Young, a senior at the University of Hawaii and a summer intern at the Jernigan Institute, introduced resolution 2006-10. Under present law funds allocated to the Books for the Blind Program cannot be transferred and used for any other purpose within the Library of Congress. Unfortunately the United States House of Representatives included language in its appropriation bill that would allow other uses for the Books for the Blind by the Librarian of Congress. The Senate version of the appropriations bill does not contain this damaging language. In resolution 2006-10 we urge Congress to follow the Senate lead by ensuring that funding proposed for the Books for the Blind Program may not be used for any other purpose.

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) is placing the guaranteed public access rights of blind people who use guide dogs in jeopardy because of its overly broad definition of a service animal. DOT includes emotional support or comfort animals in its definition of a service animal for purposes of air travel. Emotional support animals are not considered service animals for other modes of public transportation such as buses and trains. Owners of emotional support animals are falsely claiming public access rights to all places of public accommodation because of the United States Department of Transportation's overly broad definition. Many emotional support animals may not have had training for proper behavior in public places. Priscilla Ferris, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, and Michael Hingson, a Federationist and official of a guide dog school, brought this problem to our attention by introducing resolution 2006-08. In this resolution we call upon the United States Department of Transportation to create a separate definition for emotional support animals that preserves the distinction between these animals and service animals.

The Convention passed three resolutions regarding access to information. Cary Supalo, a past NFB scholarship winner and tenBroek Fellow, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Blind Students, and a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Pennsylvania, and Mark Riccobono, director of education for the Jernigan Institute, sponsored resolution 2006-03. In this resolution we strongly urge the College Board and the Educational Testing Service to ensure greater nonvisual access to online Advance Placement materials and practice tests. The resolution further stipulates that blind students who require testing materials in accessible formats should not face delays in the test-administration process.

Bob Ray, president of the Merchants Division in Iowa, introduced resolution 2006-09. Automatic Products International, a leading manufacturer of vending machines in the United States, has discontinued production of an interface device for its coffee maker that allowed vendors to use a speech synthesizer to operate the equipment independently. In this resolution we affirm our commitment to work with manufacturers to promote the creation of accessible vending machine equipment. We also urge state licensing agencies to include speech access as a main criterion in determining which vending equipment to purchase for its programs.

Two former scholarship winners introduced resolution 2006-11. Stacy Cervenka, who works for the United States Senate, and Mike Mellow, who works for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, have difficulty performing their duties because their agencies use BlackBerry personal digital assistants (PDAs) as a major form of communication. BlackBerry products are not accessible to the blind. In resolution 2006-11 we call upon Congress to urge Research in Motion, the manufacturer of BlackBerry, promptly to make its products accessible to the blind. We also urge the federal government to enforce section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act vigorously "to make BlackBerry products accessible to all federal employees, including the blind."

This brief summary is merely an introductory description of the resolutions considered and passed by the Convention. Readers should study the complete text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. The complete texts of all resolutions approved by the Convention follow.